Byakuya stood in the shadow of a roof peak, watching his sister and her suitor.
Not that she would call him her suitor. Rukia didn’t take enough care for her own interests at times. Well, that was his business, as her brother, to look after.
When he could.
He pushed the thought away with an impatient toss of his head and stilled himself to watch again.
It never failed to amuse him how hesitant Renji was with Rukia, sometimes, as if he thought her fragile. On at least one occasion he’d seen Rukia hit him over the head for it.
They played like children.
Well, perhaps not quite like children, he amended, watching with a certain pleasure as Rukia, the chased in their current game of tag, ambushed Renji with a cleverly held binding spell. But they weren’t chasing each other for practice, today. When they practiced together they were more serious.
Renji was more serious much of the time, now, which also gave Byakuya some pleasure. For a long time, Renji had walked at his heels, as if tame, always watching but never challenging.
He was no longer tame, and thus became worthy of consideration.
And Rukia wished to consider him; wished, even, to accept him. That much was clear, to Byakuya if not to Renji. But she held herself to the standards of her House.
To her brother’s standards. To her brother’s side.
And in doing so, she sacrificed this love of hers. Byakuya, as the head of Kuchiki, could only approve of her choice. It was proper and fitting to her place in the House. But when he watched the brightness in her eyes as she sat beside him in the evenings, he knew that was not her reason. She chose for his sake alone—to put his conscience and sense of duty at ease. Watching her laugh, as Renji barely evaded her and left his hair-band in her hands, Byakuya had to swallow guilt that she denied herself exactly the choice he had made for himself.
“Not going to stop them?” a new voice prodded from behind him. “Call her away from the low-life?”
Byakuya rigidly suppressed a twitch. Kyouraku, he reminded himself, liked to get a rise out of anyone who looked imperturbable. Byakuya felt vindicated, once again, in his choice not to have Rukia placed in Kyouraku’s division, despite the fact that Ise Nanao would have made a good role model.
“Or are you planning to throw her to him?” Kyouraku continued, when Byakuya didn’t answer. “Have you really gotten that much political savvy?”
That got a raised brow. “What?”
“Didn’t think so,” Kyouraku sighed, bracing an overly familiar elbow on Byakuya’s shoulder as he leaned forward to watch Rukia tackle Renji, to very little effect, below them. “I swear, Rukia-chan practices better politics and diplomacy just by breathing than you ever could by making speeches.”
Speeches? Byakuya gave his fellow captain a chilly look. What was the man talking about?
“Not that you ever would,” Kyouraku allowed, in face of the disdain directed at him. “But the point stands. People gather to Rukia-chan. She can bring together the most unlikely sorts.”
Considering how his sister seemed to be handling Kotetsu Kiyone and Kotsubaki Sentarou, Byakuya had to admit that this was undeniably true.
“Which is a good thing, considering how many of our captains come from Rukongai, these days,” Kyouraku continued, in a meditative tone. “It’ll be interesting to see who all winds up in the Chamber of Forty-six, this time.”
“Well! It was nice talking at you again, Byakuya-kun.” Kyouraku gave him a hearty clap on the shoulder that failed to budge him, and was gone.
Byakuya forced his breathing even, staring blindly down at the two below him. Kyouraku couldn’t possibly think that commoners would enter… that the noble houses would have to makes such accommodations…
Others might, though. And Byakuya’s gaze downward sharpened. If others thought so… perhaps there was a way. A way to keep his sister and yet give her what she wanted so much.
Renji turned at bay and caught Rukia against him, for a moment, and their play drowned in a long stare before they both broke away and looked elsewhere.